A GUIDE TO JAPANESE PRINTS - BASIL STEWART
THE DRAMA OF THE "CHUSHINGURA" - (continued)
Hiroshige's Illustrations to the Play.
WE now come to one of the most famous and best-known series of illustrations to the "Chushingura," namely Hiroshige's set complete in sixteen plates, the eleventh act containing six different episodes; publisher Senichi. Round the border is the double tomo-ye crest of Yuranosuke; copies of prints from this set are often found mutilated by having this decorative border cut off.
This Chushingura set is not at all common, especially the extra scenes to Act XI, and it is rarely found in really fine impressions, with the result that it usually conveys a somewhat poor impression of Hiroshige's powers as an artist.
The first episode of the eleventh act, the ronin crossing the bridge on their way to the attack, is so far and away the best plate in the series, that it is a real masterpiece. We here reproduce at Plate 40 an exceptionally brilliant impression of this scene and also of Act V, such as are rarely met with.
As an example of the estimation in which this particular Chushingura series is held by collectors, a complete set of the sixteen scenes, in only moderate condition, changed hands at auction early last year (1920) for nearly forty pounds, a sum which, in the opinion of the writer, seemed high considering its state. But prints, particularly complete sets, by Hiroshige have been fetching very high prices in the auction room ; competition is especially keen on the part of American and Japanese collectors.
The writer recently made an interesting find in the shape of a set of quarter-plate scenes, four acts on one sheet, of this series, finishing with the second episode of Act XI. Whether there should be a fourth sheet with the other four episodes of Act XI to complete it, it is impossible to say. The artist's signature which appears on each scene is difficult to decipher, but seems to be Yukinobu, a name not previously met with, and one which does not appear to be mentioned in any book dealing with this subject.
With the exception of slight alterations here and there in parts of the colour-scheme, Hiroshige's set is copied exactly, and this fact led the writer to at once attribute it to Hasegawa Sadanobu, an Osaka artist, copies of whose set of small Omi Hak'kei views in exact imitation of Hiroshige's same series in half-plate size is in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, South Kensington, and who was known to be an arrant imitator of the latter. It is possible this Chushingura set is by him, but comparing the signature thereon with that on the above-mentioned Omi Hak'kei set, it does not appear the same.
Each scene of this set has a border of a white fret pattern on a blue ground, but without the tomo-ye crest on it.
The following constitute the scenes in the Chushingura set published by Senichi.
Act I. Examination of the Helmets at the Hachiman Temple, Kamakura.
Lady Kawoyo, followed by two men carrying the box of helmets, mounts the temple steps (blue and grey) towards the council of nobles seated at the top.
On the uppermost step is Tadayoshi, acting as deputy for the Shogun Takauji, at the inauguration of the temple ; below him on his left is Moronao, and on his right, another commissioner, Ishido.
On a lower step again is Yenya (below Moronao), and Wakasa opposite him. (See Plate 40.)
(Yoshisada had been defeated and slain in battle by the Ashikaga Shogun, Takauji, who caused this shrine to be erected to the war-god, Hachiman, at Kamakura (Tsurugaoka) in commemoration of his success. He commanded that the helmet worn by Yoshisada should be placed in the treasury of the temple as a trophy of war, but as forty-seven helmets had been picked up on the ground round the spot where Yoshisada and his defenders fell, none of the councillors knew for certain which was the one he had worn.
Lady Kawoyo, who had been one of the twelve naishi ("inner attendants") in the service of Yoshisada, is thereupon, on the suggestion of Tadayoshi, sent for to solve the difficulty ; she immediately picks out the helmet in question, which had been presented to Yoshisada by the Emperor Go-daigo as a reward for his services.
The helmet is then delivered over to Yenya and Wakasa for safe keeping, to see that it is duly placed in the temple treasury ; they then retire in company with Tadayoshi, leaving Moronao alone with Lady Kawoyo, when he presents her with his love-verses which she scornfully rejects.
Before the episode closes, however, Wakasa opportunely returns, and seeing that some insult had been offered to Lady Kawoyo, cleverly interposes by reminding her that, her duties being now done, Tadayoshi had given her permission to retire.
Moronao, hot-tempered and suspicious that Wakasa guessed what had passed between him and Lady Kawoyo, insults Wakasa who, exasperated by Moronao's conduct, coming on top of a previous insult earlier in the day, grasps his sword, then and there, to make an end of his tormentor, when, fortunately for Moronao, at that moment Tadayoshi's escort comes running up, clearing a way, and in the stir and confusion thus occasioned Wakasa is obliged to defer his vengeance.)
Act II. From behind a yellow screen, on which is a painting of a bamboo, signed Joko-an, Tonase watches her daughter as she diffidently approaches Rikiya to receive his message ; through the open side of the room is seen Wakasa standing on the veranda and before him Honzo cutting off the pine branch.
A plate above the average of the set ; the bright yellow screen against the blue and green of the room and the gay colour of Konami's dress make a very effective colour-scheme.
(Rikiya comes to Wakasa's castle to deliver a message from his lord Yenya, to the effect that Tadayoshi commands they both be present at Kamakura on the morrow at the seventh hour (4 a.m.) for instruction at the hands of Moronao.
Honzo, Wakasa's chief steward, deputes his wife Tonase to receive Rikiya's message and transmit it to Wakasa, adding, "And stay, Rikiya and Konami are betrothed, so treat him civilly. I must away to your mistress."
Under the circumstances, Tonase considers it would be more fitting if Konami received the visitor, but her daughter hesitating to reply, the mother feigns indisposition, saying it will be impossible for her to receive Rikiya, and hobbles off as though to retire to an inner room, but really conceals herself behind a screen to watch Konami's behaviour.)
Act III. Scene outside the Castle of Kamakura at early dawn. Sagisaka Bannai, chief retainer to Moronao, reading the list of presents which Honzo has brought to appease the hostility of Moronao against Wakasa. Behind Bannai stand two of his followers, grasping the handles of their swords ; on the left kneels Honzo and a servant.
On one of the wooden stands in front of Bannai are the picture-rolls, and on the other the ogon (oval gold or silver-gilt money-pieces), which constituted the presents.
(The threatening attitude of Bannai's two retainers is explained by
their suspicions of any possible foul play on the part of Honzo, such
as a dagger hidden in the roll of paper containing the list of presents,
which he might snatch up and try to plunge into Moronao, who, in the actual
story, is present when Honzo brings his gifts.
Moronao was fully prepared, after the previous day's scene with Wakasa, for an attempt on his life, and his chief retainer, Bannai, was at first suspicious that the offer of these presents was a mere blind to attack him, and that Wakasa had deputed Honzo to do, or attempt to do, the deed.)
(In the previous act, while Konami is receiving Rikiya, Wakasa explains to his councillor Honzo the insults to which Moronao had treated him at Kamakura, and that he intended, on the morrow, to wipe out his score against him, and so rid the country of a pestilential fellow. Appearing to approve of his lord's decision, but secretly knowing it would mean death to him and disaster to his family if he succeeded in carrying it out, Honzo strikes off a pine branch with his short sword, exclaiming, "Sah! So let the enemies of my lord perish by his hand."
Wakasa then retires to rest, it being now midnight. Honzo, however, immediately sets about in the short time available to devise means of preventing the threatened calamity, and knowing Moronao's miserly disposition, collects all the money and presents he can and rides off during the night with it to Kamakura. He arrives just in time to present his gifts to Moronao and his retainers as coming from Wakasa and his household before Wakasa comes on the scene, fully prepared to have it out with Moronao.
Moronao, however, is now completely changed in his manner to him, and apologizes profusely for his conduct of the previous day, whereupon Wakasa is so taken aback that his former anger is changed to amazement, and he feels himself unable to draw his sword, but is obliged instead to hold it in the reverse attitude to that of fighting. Honzo meanwhile secretly congratulates himself on the success of his bribe to Moronao, a success, however, for which he pays the price of his own life, as we shall see in a later act.)
Act IV. Yenya's castle at Yedo. In a large open room overlooking the garden is seated Lady Kawoyo and her attendants, accompanied by Rikiya, before a large bowl of rare cherry-blossoms, which she had caused to be brought to afford some distraction to her lord in his unfortunate condition.
Along a covered veranda, on the left, Hara Goyemon, the chief of Yent'a's retainers (ranking next to Yuranosuke, his councillor) is approaching, followed by Kudayu. (See Plate 40.)
Act V. Scene at nightfall in the mountains, on the hill-road between Kyoto and the village of Yamazaki, during a heavy rain-storm.
(Only copies of very early impressions are printed with the rain-block, as in that here reproduced at Plate 40 ; such copies are very uncommon.)
Between two large pine trees kneels the old peasant Yoichibei, imploring mercy, while the robber Sadakuro snatches at his purse, hung from his neck by a cord.
Steep, black mountains rise up from a deep gorge on the left, while in the distance appears another mountain through the rain. Sky graded from black at top to grey, and then grey-blue.
(Yoichibei, father of Okaru, was returning home from Kyoto bringing half the money received from the tea-house proprietor there by the sale of his daughter, who had, unknown to Kampei, adopted this means to raise money for him to enable him to join the ronin ; the rest of the money to be handed over when the proprietor came next day to claim her and take her to Kyoto.)
Act VI. Along a yellow road, over a bridge, three huntsmen who have found Yoichibei's dead body and brought it to his cottage, are returning.
In the story of the "Chushingura" their names are given as Aleppo Yahachi, Tanegashima no Roku, and Tanuki no Kakubei.
Behind, Kampei receiving Yagoro and Goyemon at the door of the hut. Background of hills. A rather poor plate, the figures of the huntsmen are crudely drawn, and the colouring is not happy.
Act VII. The Ichiriki tea-house, Gion Street, Kyoto. Yuranosuke supping with the spy Kudayu, surrounded by tea-house girls ; on the left two geisha playing samisen.
In the centre of the group are two of the ronin, Yazama Jiutaro and Senzaki Yagoro, dressed in black, one of them pointing his fan at Yuranosuke, who have come to question him as to his plans against Moronao. Kudayu being present, Yuranosuke feigns drunkenness and talks stupidly to them, whereupon they retire, rather ashamed at their chief's conduct, not realizing at the time his reasons for it.
Act VIII. The journey of Tonase and her daughter Konami from Yedo to Yamashima to find Rikiya.
Behind them, by the roadside, stands the trunk of a huge pine tree, wreathed with an autumn-tinted creeper ; a woman stoops to tie up Konami's sandal. Behind Konami follows their porter, and behind him again is another traveller mounted on a pack-horse, led by a coolie. In the background, over a wooded hill, appears the cone of Fuji, white against a blue sky.
An unusual treatment of the Bridal Journey scene, which is generally depicted by the seashore at Tago.
Act IX. One of the best plates of the set. Yuranosuke's house at Yamashima under snow.
In an open room, overlooking the garden, Honzo, in the presence of his weeping wife and daughter, commits seppuku in atonement for his conduct in stooping to bribe Moronao in favour of his lord, Wakasa, and for interfering when Yenya attacked his enemy, thus indirectly being the cause of reducing his retainers to the status of ronin, while outside, Yuranosuke, who has now adopted Honzo's disguise, goes off to Sakai where he makes his final preparations to attack Moronao. Behind him kneels his wife, bidding a tearful farewell, and his son Rikiya.
Act X. Scene outside the house of Amakawa-ya Gihei, at Sakai, at night.
A party of nine ronin, who have been sent to test Gihei's loyalty to their cause, two of them carrying a large basket which conceals Yuranosuke, knocking at the door of Gihei's house. In the background Gihei's wife approaches ; three street dogs and coolies right.
Act XI. First Episode. The ronin crossing the bridge at night on their way to the attack on Moronao's castle. In the foreground is a boat, in which are two ronin, close in to the shore.
In the event of their being attacked on their return by Moronao's retainers, or by those of his son's father-in-law, who lived in the neighbourhood, this boat was kept in readiness to enable one of them to escape with their enemy's head by water. The masterpiece of the set. (See Plate 40.)
Act XI. Second Episode. The party in charge of Rikiya breaking an entrance into the inner building by forcing out the shutters with bent bamboos inserted under the upper and lower grooves, thereby prising open the framework.
One ronin, Ohowashi Bungo, carries a huge wooden mallet to batter down the gate, while another is armed with an enormous battle-axe.
Act XI. Third Episode. The finding of Moronao, who has been dragged out of his hiding-place, and is struggling to free himself from the grip of two of the ronin, while Yuranosuke shows him the dirk with which Yenya committed self-dispatch, and invites him to do likewise, an invitation which Moronao declines, so that Yuranosuke himself is obliged to give him the coup de grace.
Act XI. Fourth Episode (really the fifth). The ronin, on their way to Sengakuji Temple, are halted in the snow-covered street outside the Palace of Matsudaira-no-Kami, Prince of Sendai, by three of his footsoldiers. (See Plate 41.)
We here give this episode in the order in which the plate is numbered, but correctly speaking this and the next should change places to be in the proper sequence of events. It is probably owing to this error that this plate is often found incorrectly described in order to make it fit in the place assigned to it by the plate number.
In this scene the ronin are now quite close to Sengakuji Temple, near which the Prince of Sendai's castle is situate. Having heard of their valorous deed in avenging their lord, he sends out some foot-soldiers to stop them and bring them to his palace for rest and refreshment, an act of kindness which they gratefully accept.
Identification of the scene is further afforded by the five sparrows fluttering above their heads, a sparrow being the badge of the Lord of Sendai.
Act XI. Fifth Episode (really the fourth). The ronin, as they are about to cross the Sumida River by the great Ryogoku Bridge, are challenged by a mounted hatamoto, armed with a lance, who forbids their crossing.
(The Sumida River, at the time these events took place, divided two different provinces at this point, access between which was given by the Ryokoku (=two provinces ; pronounce Ryogoku) Bridge. By the time the ronin had reached Yedo their deed had become noised abroad, and the daimyo in whose jurisdiction the province lay forbade them to enter it, being apprehensive of thus harbouring forty seven murderers, as legally speaking they were. He therefore sent out a hatamoto with orders to turn them back should they attempt to enter his province, so they were obliged to cross by the Yeitai Bridge to avoid it.
The hatamotos were feudatories who flocked to the standard of the ShogunShogun (the word means "under the flag") in war-time. In rank they came between the daimyos and the samurai.)
Act XI. Sixth Episode. Scene at sunrise.
The ronin entering the precincts of Sengakuji Temple. On the right is a snowy cliff, wonderfully graded. A very fine print.
After a short rest at the Palace of Sendai the ronin take their departure with many thanks for the hospitality shown them, and continue their way to the temple, where they are received at the entrance by the abbot, and conducted to the resting-place of their lord, before which they each burn incense in turn as the priests of the monastery read prayers.
Hiroshige issued through the publisher Arita-ya another series illustrating the "Chushingura," complete in twelve scenes. This set is very uncommon, even more so than the foregoing Senichi issue, and contains several plates which compare very favourably with the best in the latter. This set has the customary tomo-ye border, and is notable for the unusual treatment of several of the scenes.
Act I. Wakasa defending Lady Kawoyo from Moronao's insults.
Scene in the grounds of the Hachiman Temple ; a large torii in the centre, through which can be seen steps leading up to the main gate, and in the distance a range of hills.
Act II. Konami shyly bringing tea to Rikiya, who is seated in a room in Wakasa's castle, while in another room, on the left, Wakasa watches Honzo as he cuts off a pine branch. One of the best plates in the series.
Konami's brightly-patterned dress showing up against the white paper screen as she passes along the veranda is an effective contrast to the dark shades of night over the landscape.
Act III. Bannai and his followers stampeding before Kampei's assault ; behind him stands Okaru by the bridge over the moat, across which rise the walls and towers of Kamakura Castle. The sky is still dark with the shadows of night.
Act IV. Nightfall : Yuranosuke by the moat in the grounds of the castle after Yenya's seppuku, leaving to prepare his plans for vengeance and so carry out his dying lord's last injunctions. A very unusual treatment of this act. (See Plate 41.)
Act V. By a huge solitary pine tree stands the robber Sadakuro, counting the money he has just stolen from Yoichibei, whose hat and sandals lie on the ground beside him, and whose body he has thrown to the bottom of the ravine on the left. Sky indicating nightfall, but no rain. While the landscape element in this scene is almost identical with that in the same act of the Senichi set, the general treatment in showing only Sadakuro is unusual.
Act VI. Kampei, with musket on shoulder, returning home, passes Okaru on a bridge over a stream as she is being taken away in a kago to the tea-house at Kyoto, followed by the tea-house proprietor looking very pleased with his new acquisition.
In the background, behind a large willow tree, stands Okaru's mother at the door of her cottage, waving a farewell to her daughter.
Like the same act in the Senichi issue, this plate is one of the least satisfactory.
Act VII. Yuranosuke playing blind-man's buff with the girls of the Ichiriki tea-house, and three of the ronin, Yazama Jiutaro, Senzaki Yagoro, and Takemori Kitahachi, followed by Heiyemon, watching him in disgust.
Yuranosuke in running after one of the girls has, instead, seized hold of Yazama, much to the latter's surprise at his chief's conduct.
"Yuranosuke," cries Yazama, disengaging himself ; "I am Yazama Jiutaro, don't you know me? What does all this nonsense mean? "
"Namusambo," mutters Yuranosuke ; "I have done, the game is all up now."
Yazama thereupon dismisses the girls, and he and his companions try, but in vain, to find out from their chief what his intentions are, and when he proposes to start for Kamakura. Yuranosuke, however, knowing Moronao's spies are lurking in the tea-house, feigns drunkenness and stupidity, so that Yazama and his companions lose patience with him as a worthless fellow, and are on the point of falling upon him with their swords, when Heiyemon prevails on them to desist, and in an earnest speech begs Yuranosuke to allow him, though only a common soldier (Ashigaru, a low-class Samurai), to join the others in their conspiracy to avenge Yenya's death.
In the course of this appeal on the part of Heiyemon, Yuranosuke falls asleep, and the three ronin, in utter disgust, again draw their swords to make an end of him, but Heiyemon, more quick-witted than the others, interposes a second time, divining that Yuranosuke's conduct had reasons in it.
Yielding to Heiyemon's explanation of their chief's conduct, the three ronin then withdraw, leaving Yuranosuke asleep.
Act VIII. The Bridal Journey. One of the best plates in the set, beautifully coloured. In the background rises a great white-coned Fuji, its lower part streaked with grey, and white clouds floating round it. (See Plate 41.)
Act IX. Honzo arrives at Yuranosuke's house at Yamashima just in time to prevent Tonase taking her daughter's life and her own. On the floor at his feet are his komuso's hat and bamboo flute ; behind sits 0-ishi with the white-wood stand in front of her on which she demanded Honzo's head as a price of the marriage of her son Rikiya with Konami.
Another very fine plate. (See Plate 41.)
Act X. Scene outside Gihei's house at night ; one of the ronin about to set on O-Sono and cut off her hair. A very fine plate, the masterpiece of this set, and most effectively coloured. (See Plate 42.)
(0-Sono, wife of Gihei, has been temporarily divorced by him to ensure her ignorance of the plot against Moronao. On the night that the ronin pay their surprise visit to Gihei, O-Sono comes to seek re-admission to the house, and to plead with her husband to take her back, otherwise her father, Ryochiko, would compel her to remarry against her will. But Gihei refuses to allow her back until the spring, when the necessity for secrecy will no longer be paramount, and pushes her outside the house.
While she lingers, two of the ronin, Ohowashi Bungo and Yazama Jiutaro, their faces concealed all but the eyes, seize O-Sono and cut off her hair, so as to make her like a nun and prevent her father compelling her to re-marry.
This they do by order of Yuranosuke who thus explains the matter to Gihei "Ere her hair grows again, I hope we shall have attained the object of our enterprise, and after our vengeance shall have been fully accomplished, you will be reunited - may you live long and happily together! "
"And," added Yuranosuke, "however long it may be ere she be reunited to you, Gihei, we are all sureties for her that she shall divulge nothing, and I myself, from the dark path, will act as intermediary in effecting your reunion."
The foregoing representation of this act is a most uncommon one, which renders this set more than usually interesting.)
Act XI. First Episode. Snow scene at night in the grounds of Moronao's castle. Moronao discovered in his hiding-place in an outhouse used to store wood and charcoal, one of the ronin blows a whistle, a prearranged signal that their enemy had been found.
Corresponds to the third episode of Act XI in the Senichi set.
Act XI. Second Episode. The ronin, headed by Yuranosuke and Rikiya, in the sunrise of early morning making their way to the Temple of Sengakuji with the head of their enemy, which one of the ronin carries in a kind of urn. A fine plate. (See Plate 42.)
(By the bank is the boat with three other ronin in it, one of whom carries another casket with which to convey the head by water to Sengakuji in case they were attacked by Moronao's retainers or his friends on the road.
Just as they were, however, on the point of leaving Moronao's castle, on the fulfilment of their mission, Yakushiji Jirozayemon, the commissioner who carries out his duties towards Yenya, in Act IV, so callously and brutally, and Bannai Sagisaka, Moronao's chief retainer, whom we last heard of at the Ichiriki tea-house, suddenly rush out from their hiding-place in one of the rooms of the castle, and attack Yuranosuke.
Rikiya, however, immediately rushes to his father's assistance, and cuts both of them down, a fit ending to their villainy.)